Animated Pre-Teen Trans Experience ‘Torrey Pines’ at ArtsEmerson Has Universal Appeal

 

 

by Mike Hoban

 

‘Torrey Pines’ – Director: Clyde Petersen; Animators: Clyde Petersen & Chris Looney; Production Team: Aidan Baxter-Ferguson, Jack Carroll, Dena Zilber, Terrance Robinson, Merce Lemon, Zach Burba & Leah Gold. Original music recorded in collaboration with Kimya Dawson and Chris Walla. Presented by ArtsEmerson at the Emerson Paramount Center Jackie Liebergott Black Box through February 17.

 

Admittedly, Torrey Pines, the moving and often hilarious stop-motion animated feature film now making its Boston premiere at the Emerson Paramount Center Jackie Liebergott Black Box, is not your everyday coming of age story. In the director’s notes, Clyde Petersen says his film – which is also accompanied by his live band, Your Heart Breaks,  – “is for queer punks, trans youth and people who struggle with mental health issues in their lives”, but it’s also for anyone who enjoys imaginative animation, quirky (and painful) storytelling, and great live music.

 

Based on a song that Peterson wrote with Kimya Dawson in 2007, Torrey Pines tells the story of a middle-school girl becoming aware of her sexual and gender identity while being raised by her booze-swilling, chain-smoking grandmother and her schizophrenic mother, who kidnaps her and takes her on a cross country road trip. The girl (who has no name) encounters the usual day-to-day stuff kids grow up with – enduring a crush from the boy in her math class, being obsessed with a TV show (in this case, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and going to a concert for the first time with your parents. But the scenes with her mother – who hallucinates alien encounters and acts out – are alternately funny and terrifying when viewed through the lens of a 12-year old girl watching her mother go mad.

 

But it’s the little vignettes where she realizes that she is gay (as she makes out with Star Trek ship psychologist Deanna Troi in a dream sequence) and trans (when her mother steps out of the shower naked behind her and she envisions herself having babies and knows that she wants no part of that existence) that take the experience out of the realm of after-school specials. The live band (who watch the film with us and keep their backs to the audience) is also a major plus, providing the film with some gorgeous tracks.

 

The animation for Torrey Pines at first seems crude, much like the original 1992 South Park short that spawned the series, but it quickly grows on you and becomes weirdly beautiful as it goes on. Every one of the animations are hand painted, giving the film an immense vibrancy of color. The story line is loaded with so many seemingly random details that it gives it a fullness I wouldn’t normally associate with animated work. It’s also infused with a ton of late 80’s-early 90’s pop culture references (Crocodile Dundee, CHiPs, and video games that I recognize but can’t remember the names of) that are a scream.

 

Torrey Pines is sure to resonate with its intended audience, but it’s also great entertainment for the rest of us. For more information, go to: https://artsemerson.org

A Winning and Entertaining Beauty and the Beast at Wheelock

 

By Michele Markarian

 

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Music by Alan Mencken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Jane Staab. Choreography by Laurel Conrad;
Musical Direction by Steven Bergman.
Presented by Wheelock Family Theatre, 200 The Riverway, Boston, MA, through March 4.

 

Belle (the appealing Justine “Icy” Moral) is the daughter of an eccentric inventor, Maurice (Robert Saoud). Both father and daughter are considered weird in their provincial town, he for his odd creations and she for her love of books. The one thing Belle gets kudos for is her great beauty, so much so that the handsomest man in town, Gaston (Mark Linehan) is hell-bent on marrying her (Gaston is so handsome that I considered pulling Belle aside and saying, “Look, kid, you can always get divorced”). Belle, a deep girl, recognizes that although Gaston is gorgeous, he is not a nice man underneath, and refuses his proposal.

Read more “A Winning and Entertaining Beauty and the Beast at Wheelock”

Commonwealth Shakespeare’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ a Taut Psychological Thriller

 

by Mike Hoban

 

Written by Ariel Dorfman, Directed by Steven Maler; Clint Ramos, Scenic and Costume Designer; Jeff Adelberg, Lighting Designer; Arshan Gailus, Sound Designer. Presented by the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in residence at Babson College, Sorenson Center for the Arts, 231 Forest Street, Wellesley, MA through February 11

 

It may be early in the theater season, but it’s unlikely that you’re going to see anything this year that will match the sheer intensity of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s outstanding production of Death and the Maiden. Director Steven Maler has assembled a top-notch creative team for this political and psychological thriller, which has an all-too-short run (concluding this weekend) at the Sorenson Center Black Box on the Babson campus, the (relatively) new home of CSC.

 

The play begins ominously, as we see Paulina, a woman in her mid-thirties, reach for a snub-nosed .45 pistol as she hears a strange car pull up in front of her house around midnight. She hears the voice of her husband, Gerardo, congenially bantering with someone outside, just before they drive away. He enters alone, her level of apprehension drops a bit, but there is still an air of tension as the two almost playfully argue over the reason he was late. Paulina, it seems, forgot to repair the spare tire and had inexplicably removed the jack from her husband’s car, so when got a flat on the way home, he was unable to fix it. Luckily for him, the stranger stopped and drove him to his front door.

 

As it turns out, Gerardo is returning from a meeting with the president of the (unnamed) country, one which has recently adopted democracy following the overthrow of a military dictatorship. He has just been asked to head the investigating commission charged with looking into the crimes of the previous regime, of which his wife herself was a victim – raped and tortured for weeks while she was blindfolded. It is evident that the psychic scars from the brutal ordeal have not healed, and Gerardo’s all too measured approach as to how he will handle the ensuing investigation – without all victims receiving justice – does not sit well with Paulina.

The couple goes to bed for the night, but are soon awoken by a loud banging on the door. Gerardo answers, and it’s Dr. Miranda, the man who drove him home, returning the flat spare that had inadvertently been left in his trunk. Paulina, meanwhile, is in the other room, listening intently, and as we soon learn, recognizes the voice of Dr. Miranda as belonging to the man who raped her 15 years ago. She never once saw his face, but during her torture, he constantly played Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden,” from which the play takes its title.

 

As the evening is late, Gerardo convinces the doctor to spend the night. When her husband retires, Paulina pistol whips a sleeping Dr. Miranda, drags him to the garage, and ties him to a chair. When her husband arises and sees to his horror what she has done, Paulina announces – at gunpoint – that they are going to try the doctor for his crimes against her –  and she will kill herself and the doctor if he does not go along.

 

And thus begins as taut a psychological drama as you are likely to ever see on stage, as the play is catapulted into a terrifying new dimension. When Gerardo says to her, “You’re – unrecognizable. How can you possibly be this way, talk this way?” , and she coolly answers, gun in hand, “Explain to my husband, Doctor Miranda, what you did to me so I would be this – crazy,” we see how completely committed Paulina is to seeing that “justice” is served.

 

On one level, there is the obvious question of how, from this moment on, their lives could ever be returned to normal. But there are other questions, both large and small. Is Paulina mad, or is Miranda really the man who inflicted the torture upon her? Does a soulless monster deserve a fair trial? Does one adhere to the law one is sworn to uphold, if doing so means destroying one’s own life? And how does a society repair itself following years of rule by a totalitarian regime? And on top of those questions, there are longstanding conflicts between Gerardo and Paulina that come to the surface, as often happens under extreme duress. That’s a lot to handle in under 100 minutes (no intermission), but director Maler paces the intense narrative perfectly to keep us on the edge of our seats throughout.

 

 

The cast is extraordinary, led by Flora Diaz as Paulina. Diaz taps into the very same combination of righteous rage and deranged detachment that enables torturers (as Dr. Miranda may or not be) to continue with their lives while carrying out unspeakable acts against others, and her portrayal is both sympathetic and frightening. Mark Torres is brilliantly unlikable as Dr. Miranda, even as he is being tortured, particularly when he lashes out with poisonous vitriol at Paulina. And Mickey Solis delivers a convincing performance as the conflicted Gerardo, who has his own demons to deal with.

 

The intimacy of the Sorenson Black Box adds to the intensity of the experience, and the alternately eerie and soothing soundscape created by Arshan Gailus, combined with the lighting design by Jeff Adelberg, perfectly complement Clint Ramos’ spare but effective set. The one slight shortcoming of the play may have been that there seemed to be little ambiguity as to the guilt of Dr. Miranda, but that may be due in part to the committed portrayal of Paulina by Diaz, (or my own cheerleading to see justice served). In any event, this a play well worth seeing, so get tickets before it sells out. For more info, go to: www.commshakes.org

Fresh Ink Theatre Invites You to Meet the Echo Family

 

Review by James Wilkinson

 

Nomad Americana – Written by Kira Rockwell. Director: Damon Krometis. Assistant Director: Sloth Levine. Dramaturg: Sara Brookner. Scenic Design: Baron E. Pugh. Lighting Design: Jess Krometis. Costume Design: Chelsea Kerl. Prop Design: Elizabeth Cahill. Dialect Consultant: Elizabeth Milanovich. Fight Choreographer: Margaret Clark; Special Education Consultant: Erin Ronder Neves. Presented by Fresh Ink Theatre at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre 949 Commonwealth Ave, Boston through February 18, 2018.

 

All hail the family unit, that rich treasure box of theatrical possibilities playwrights have been mining material from since the days of Medea and Oedipus Rex. We’re a few thousand years removed from those theatrical mainstays, but playwrights up through Eugene O’Neil, Sam Shepard and Paula Vogel have continually found new ways to break apart and examine familial bonds and their effects. To what extent are we our parents? How do we become our own individuals without shattering our ties to our family? Is that even possible? These are some of the questions playwright Kira Rockwell is contending with in her new play Nomad Americana, now being presented by Fresh Ink Theatre at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. The play is a loving look at a family as one woman begins to wonder what’s next for her.

 

Read more “Fresh Ink Theatre Invites You to Meet the Echo Family”

Huntington’s BAD DATES Delivers Laughs…And More

 

Bad Dates – Written by Theresa Rebeck; Directed by Jessica Stone; Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge; Costume Design by Sarah Laux; Lighting Design by David J. Weiner; Sound Design by Drew Levy. Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company, Huntington Avenue Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston through March 3rd.

 

Bad Dates, Theresa Rebeck’s one-woman play now making its return to the Huntington after a smash run in 2004, is billed as a comedy, but it’s actuality it’s much more than that. At the outset it appears to be just another amusing discourse on dating – which is always a rich vein to mine for laughs – but as the plot unfolds it becomes sneakily poignant. And in the hands of the gifted comic actress Haneefah Wood and director Jessica Stone, the piece is transformed into a masterful piece of storytelling.

Read more “Huntington’s BAD DATES Delivers Laughs…And More”

ART’s “Hear Word!” Triumphant and Powerful

 

By Michele Markarian

 

Hear Word!  Naija Woman Talk True –Written by Ifeoma Fafunwa, Tunde Aladese, Mojisola Abijola, Wole Oguntokun, Princess Olufemi-Kayode, Ijeoma Ogwuegbu. Directed by Ifeoma Fufunwa. Presented by American Repertory Theater, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge through February 11.

 

After seeing “Hear Word”, I spent the day texting friends, urging them to get tickets to this powerful, life-affirming show.  Here’s my text to you –

 

“Hear Word” is a collection of vignettes written from interviews with Nigerian women and performed by a talented cast of ten women. Grounded in truth and accompanied by three talented drummers (Blessing Idireri, a.k.a. Kacomari, Emeka Anokwuru a.k.a. Make Beat, and Ebisidor Asiyai) the stories are funny and tragic, sometimes both at the same time. Living in a society where men hold all the cards, the women have to constantly fight to protect their bodies, their dignity and their right to be who they are. If that weren’t enough, relationships with their own sex, including mothers and mothers-in-laws, tend to be judgmental and without compassion.   Which is why the piece is so powerful – it is compassionate, and compassion, when in short supply, doesn’t come easy.

Read more “ART’s “Hear Word!” Triumphant and Powerful”

The Show Must Go On in Trinity Rep’s Hilarious ‘INTO THE BREECHES’

 

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

 

The latest show at Trinity Repertory Theatre is “Into the Breeches” by George Brant. This show is set in Providence in 1942 and there is a problem at the Oberon Play House. The director and the leading men are all off to war. Determined to press on, the director’s wife sets out to produce an all female version of Shakespeare’s “Henry V”, assembling an increasingly unexpected team united in desire, if not in actual theatre experience. Together they deliver a delightful celebration of collaboration and persistence when the show must go on. It takes a delightful look at women’s experiences during World War II.

Read more “The Show Must Go On in Trinity Rep’s Hilarious ‘INTO THE BREECHES’”

Company One’s “Hype Man” Exceeds the Hype

 

by Mike Hoban

 

“HYPE MAN: A Break Beat Play” – Written by Idris Goodwin; Directed by Shawn LaCount; Music Direction by Kadahj Bennett; Sound Design by Lee Schuna; Lighting Design by Jen Rock; Costume Design by Cassandra Cacoq. Presented by Company One at the Boston Center for the Arts, Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont Street, South End, Boston through February 24

 

You don’t have to be a fan of hip-hop to appreciate Company One’s illuminating production of Idris Goodwin’s HYPE MAN: A Break Beat Play, now receiving its world premiere at the Boston Center for Arts. Not only is it one of the best new plays in years, it’s one of the best plays of the 2017-2018 season, period. HYPE MAN takes the age-old dilemma that many artists face, namely, where to draw the line between maintaining artistic integrity and personal beliefs versus chasing fame and fortune, and further juices the story by injecting one of the most politically charged issues facing America today – the shooting of unarmed people of color by police officers.

 

Read more “Company One’s “Hype Man” Exceeds the Hype”

A Sobering “Statements After An Arrest Under the Immortality Act”

 

By Michele Markarian

 

‘Statements After An Arrest Under the Immortality Act’ – Written by Athol Fugard.  Directed by Jim Petosa. Presented by New Repertory Theatre, co-produced with Boston Center for American Performance. At the Blackbox Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA through March 3.

 

All affairs end, and most of them end badly. One or both partners are usually married, so the possibility of happily ever after is slim. In due time, affairs run their course and with any luck, both parties escape moderately unscathed. Unless the affair itself is against the law.

Read more “A Sobering “Statements After An Arrest Under the Immortality Act””

Liars & Believers ‘IRRESISTIBLE’ Applies Woke Spin to Vaudevillian Concept

 

by Mike Hoban

 

IRRESISTIBLE – Directed by Jason Slavick; Written by the LAB Ensemble. Presented by Liars & Beleivers. Performed at Sonia at the Middle East, 10 Brookline Street in Cambridge, MA. One night only, January 24, 2018.

 

You shoulda been there.

 

That’s all I can say, because if you weren’t able to attend Liars & Believers’ (LAB) sold out performance of IRRESISTIBLE last week, you’re not going to be able to catch a later performance of this compelling and enormously fun music/dance/theater composite. LAB presents their coLABs for one night only (this is the first since 2015’s Talk To Strangers), which is a shame since it’s so much fun to watch these artists create pieces outside their more traditional performance vehicles.

Read more “Liars & Believers ‘IRRESISTIBLE’ Applies Woke Spin to Vaudevillian Concept”